Local Man In His 30s Gets Really Into PinkPantheress
10:00 AM EST on November 15, 2023
Time gets us all no matter how hard we fight against it. As someone who came up as a music writer and critic, staying hip and current was a fundamental part of my job for the longest time. It helped that being hip and current also mattered to me in my actual life, not because of some desire to be cool or young forever, but because I find new things to be genuinely exciting. But even the most ardent and consistent follower of new cultural exports can't stay on top of things forever. At first you just fall a little behind—be a little slow, be a little late—then you start having whole gaps of things you're missing out on happening around you. Finally, worst of all, you just lose the energy to keep up. You start picking and choosing what you're willing to intake. This is especially true of a fragmented, post-internet cultural wasteland, where every trend is somehow happening simultaneously and already ending just as soon as it started. Are you telling me that now that I've discovered gorpcore corporate vaporwave music, the scene is already dead and actually highly problematic? Unfortunately so, old man.
If there is a silver lining to the endless attempt to grasp the sands of time, it is that the new things that do grab you tend to do so for pure reasons and not just from the desires to stay current. This brings me to PinkPantheress, the U.K.-bred bedroom pop singer making music for the new generation of girls that are really into Hello Kitty (kids still care about that, right?). For my money, no other artist speaks to that very specific strain of insanity and neurosis, and a personality manufactured by insanity and neurosis which was developed by everyone following the global pandemic. It's insular music literally built by the claustrophobia and imagination of spending too much time in your bedroom or garage. It's bouncy and playful, yet totally aching with loneliness, vulnerability, and fantasy. It's a melding of R&B, ABBA pop, glitchy electronica, and drum & bass.
Whatever it is that makes old white male music writers fixate on Olivia Rodrigo, is exactly what draws me to PinkPantheress. Over the weekend, she released her official "debut album," whatever that means now, Heaven Knows. It's as tight an album can be in the streaming age: a little over 30 minutes of a cohesively crafted world. It's full of longing and romance and dramatics and self-destruction presented in a sparkly pink platter with unicorn stickers all over it. She's not an earth-shattering talent as a singer, but unlike other UK artists that have never done it for me, she uses her fragile whispery voice as an instrument with the rest of the music and production rather than as the show itself. Her lyrics carry that theatrically too-online poetry that come across much more effectively on a groovy track than on a Tumblr page: "I wish I stayed at home in bed 'cause then I might have survived" on "Ophelia," or "I'll always change because you want me to/ It's the same old you, the same old me" on "Blue."
These things paint some kind of picture of why PinkPantheress is talented and charming, but not exactly what it is that has made me an almost unabashed fan of hers. Plenty of young artists are making good music that speaks to the very nihilistic, way-too-internet-pilled world they're growing up in—truly, there are so many doing this—but what makes her special?
Beyond the songs just being good by themselves, there is something to PinkPantheress's earnestness and the childlike pianos and plinky Fisher-Price sound in her music that feels like a warm blanket for the brain. It's part of what also works for me about Ice Spice, despite the latter's adult lyrics, there's a kind of playground wonder to the music itself that takes the shape of what I remember from being a kid. Both Ice Spice and PinkPantheress connected earlier for one of this year's best songs "Boy's a liar Pt. 2," a record designed to make the most hardened music listener scoff at first, then enjoy ironically, and then eventually just enjoy. I don't know how else to describe the song except as adorable, like swinging on the monkey bars of your elementary school put on wax. I don't exactly aspire to being young and absolutely would not want to relive childhood, but that doesn't mean it was all bad. It was full of magic and fun, and PinkPantheress is like getting to experience that magic without any of the baggage. It's nice that music can still do that even for a hardened critic.